Andrea Carlson

Andrea Carlson remembers what it’s like to be a beginner. For such an accomplished teacher and performer, she became serious about music relatively late.

“I was self-taught on guitar until I was 20,” she says. “I started taking lessons at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, and I had to learn all of my technique. I had to learn how to read music at age 20. So I can definitely relate to being a beginner.”

Despite the guitar’s image of being easy to just pick up and play, Carlson says it’s still difficult to play well: “It’s the easiest instrument to get started with, but the hardest to master.”

For young musicians, the difficulty level is even higher because of the instrument’s size and the strength required to play it.

“I’ve had students as young as age 4, but around 7 or 8 is a good starting spot,” she says. “Students need to have the physical strength to press down the strings. It’s a gradual process that we go through step by step.”

As if the large, solid body and six strings that require careful tuning weren’t enough, there’s the fundamental difficulty behind simply creating a sound on the instrument: “It takes two hands to make one note,” she says—one on the frets, and one to pluck the string down by the instrument’s sound hole.

In helping young students get their bearings, Carlson says she aims to provide a supportive, nurturing environment for learning.

“Having someone who’s on their side—your mentor, your fanclub, someone who understands you—is so important,” she says. “I want to be that for my students.”

As an active performer, one who’s steeped in classical technique but performs jazz and other, more modern sounds as a singer and songwriter, Carlson can set a very strong example for her students of the creative and expressive potential of the guitar, even during regular teaching exercises.

“I’ll play three or four notes, or the whole phrase, and have them play it like me,” she says.

As students begin to master the instrument, Carlson will often let them pick out favorite songs and recordings to practice and play during lessons, but she also assigns songs and pieces that she loves, too.

“I want them to feel rewarded by playing something beautiful.”

Andrea Carlson Guitar faculty at the Germantown and Willow Grove Branches Faculty member since 2007

Andrea Carlson
Guitar faculty at the Germantown and Willow Grove Branches
Faculty member since 2007

Mike Liszka

Mike Liszka knows bands. He’s been playing in them – rock bands, concert bands, jazz bands, and others – for nearly 15 years. He’s currently playing with a band, Sonnder, that plays at some of Philadelphia’s biggest venues, tours regularly, and is starting to have its songs picked up by local radio stations.

Interestingly, he goes even further back with orchestra. He started playing in violin at age 4, and played in orchestra through middle school before percussion, which he began playing at age 10, took over.

“When I was ten years old, I was playing violin two hours a day,” he recalls. “I did both orchestra and band from age 10 to 14. Drums were always the ‘fun’ instrument.”

He wants his students to see his chosen instrument the same way, and he passes along his love for drumming through Individual lessons, Percussion Construction (introductory percussion classes for young children and their parents), and directing the beginning band at Hardy Williams High School through the Music Education Pathways program. Bands, in several different forms, are still a major part of his life.

His high school students started the 2016-17 school year as beginners, though a few of the percussionists had played in churches and other settings. “It was a really good class. I got to see them perform on stage for the first time, and they all got excited,” he says. “They were all really proud, and it brought back great memories for me.”

Since he’s so active as a performer, he frequently breaks out tricks and approaches from rock-style drumming to illustrate percussion basics; he’ll take one of the fundamentals – a paradiddle, for example – and demonstrate how it applies to playing a fill on the drum set. “This is where you can take it,” he tells students. “The lesson here is that you have to do the boring stuff so that you can do the fun stuff.”

He breaks down concepts like grip and technique really carefully for his students, giving demonstrations and asking, “How am I able to do this? What makes this hard for you?” For other students who are hesitant to work on fundamentals at home, he’ll often say, “if you go home and practice this, you could do it by next week.”

Liszka displays a highly positive attitude during lessons and conveys constant encouragement to his students, who range in age from 5 to 58. Even several years out of college and into his teaching career, he still draws on advice from the teachers he encountered when he first started playing an instrument.

“My teachers were all so smart and so dedicated. My elementary school orchestra teacher even came to my senior recital in college,” he says, clearly proud to be following in their footsteps.

Mike Liszka
Percussion faculty at the Wynnefield, Willow Grove, and Camden Branches
Music Education Pathways faculty – band director, Hardy Williams High School
Faculty member since 2015

Teresa Cappello

Teresa Cappello’s connection to Settlement goes back a long way. The 2016-17 season marks 40 years on the faculty here, and she’s a Settlement alumna as well, taking piano lessons with Irene Beck at the Germantown Branch starting at age 15.

She was an enthusiastic student at the time, but she knows that not every student approaches their weekly lessons with similar excitement. “I’ve become known as a teacher that takes on challenging students,” she says. “I look at every student holistically. I see what their parents want them to be and what they want to be themselves.”

That openness took her in a very different direction roughly 20 years into her tenure, when she took part in a program with MossRehab where she taught and performed for rehabilitation patients. “I saw there was a need. They had the possibility to make music in their lives, and I knew that I could help.”

That experience, along with teaching in a Montessori school, spurred Cappello to pursue training in music therapy. She received a Master’s degree in Music Therapy from Drexel University in 2000 and worked as a therapist with the Kardon Insitute, the precursor to Settlement’s Kardon Center for Arts Therapy, while still teaching piano at Settlement.

“I worked with students with autism and other developmental disorders,” she recalls, “and I served as accompanist for the Kardon Chorale,” an amateur choral group comprising both Kardon Institute clients and their families.

With experience in both traditional music instruction and in therapeutic museum, Cappello says she doesn’t aim, as a teacher, to discover “the next Van Cliburn or Gary Graffman.”

“Let’s see where music can touch them and change them, and let’s see where there’s potential that’s hidden.” She adds, “each individual is teaching you—about you and your teaching methods. I don’t say ‘this is the way I teach, and that’s it.’ I’m more open.”

Ultimately, Cappello’s devotion leads her students and families to feel the same way about Settlement she does, even if they haven’t been connected to the school for as long. “To me, it’s a second home,” she says. “It’s a comfortable, supportive environment.”

Teresa Cappello
Piano faculty at the Germantown and Willow Grove Branches
Faculty member since 1976

William Kerrigan

Bill Kerrigan has been teaching at Settlement for over 40 years. He was in his sophomore year at Temple University when he started, so he has been thinking about the art of teaching since he was a student himself.

The Cleveland native first came to Philadelphia to study at Temple; one of his teachers there, Alan Abel, started the percussion program at Settlement, in addition to playing for many years with the Philadelphia Orchestra. One of his other primary teachers, Charles Owen, was already playing with the Orchestra when Abel joined it. “They’re both in the Percussive Arts Hall of Fame,” Kerrigan notes.

He takes this teaching lineage to heart, and just as he sought to soak up knowledge from these teachers during his training, he still looks for opportunities to learn through masterclasses, demonstrations, and workshops. “What makes this person such an extraordinary teacher?" he asks himself. "What are they saying that’s really hitting home with their students?”

Just as musicians are constantly practicing and working on their craft, he says, “we’re all still learning how to teach and how to be better teachers.”

His craft as a percussionist is a major part of his life as well, as he regularly performs with the Philly Pops, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, the Phil-A-Rhythm Percussion Quartet, and Orchestra2001. This last group, an ensemble focused on contemporary music, plays repertoire that often requires an array of exotic instruments.

He lists some of his favorites, as well as some of the stranger ones he’s played: almglocken, a large set of tuned cowbells; the "devil chaser," a handheld bamboo stick with an odd, buzzing tone; and the "cannon drum," a long, cylindrical drum that produces loud, explosive sounds.

Kerrigan's students can see these instruments in use at some of his performances, but standard repertoire with the usual complement of percussion instruments can be eye-opening for young musicians. “I encourage them to listen to music and then to go out and see live performances,” he says. “That way, they can see what really great playing looks like and sounds like.” Here he notes the presence of many great musicians and ensembles in and around Philadelphia.

Over the course of his teaching career, he has noticed greater parental involvement and interest, particularly with younger students. More and more, parents sit in on lessons and ask about what their children are learning; in that way, the parents are learning, too. “Often those kids are the best students,” he says.

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William Kerrigan
Julian A. and Lois G. Brodsky Distinguished Faculty Chair
Percussion faculty at the
Mary Louise Curtis Branch
Faculty member since 1974

Sharon Neff

Throughout life, everyone works on “finding their voice” —not just musicians, and certainly not just singers. For most, it’s about finding a way of expressing yourself that’s true to who you are.

As a voice teacher, Sharon Neff has aided students who’ve have literally lost their voices, whether through stress, illness or overuse. For students like these, regaining their voices is a milestone both in recovering their health and rediscovering themselves.

Neff cites one current student who’d all but lost the ability to speak, much less to sing. “She had hurt her back and lost her job, and it had all gone to her throat,” she says. “She had sung when she was younger, and she was determined to get it back.”

Neff’s approach to teaching voice, complete with charts and diagrams of the mouth, throat and vocal cords, emphasizes the physical foundations of making sound with the voice.

“I use those images so they can feel what’s going on inside their bodies,” she says. “The instrument is inside your body, and that’s the hardest part to teach.”

Starting with private lessons at age 16, through her teachers at Houghton College and the Eastman School of Music, Neff says she has had teachers who were “good technicians,” stressing proper vocal technique across all forms and styles of music.

“I fell in love with opera,” she says. “I would hear things like Placido Domingo singing Pagliacci, and I thought, ‘I have to sing,’ even though I wasn’t planning on majoring in music.”

Though her students run the gamut in age from early-middle-school to retirement, most are high-school-aged and very involved musically. “A lot of my students have sung in choir or school musicals, and some of them do pageants and talent shows,” she says. She helps them make smart repertoire choices that match their voice—she calls it “giving your voice a chance to catch up with your brain.”

Opera might have been Neff’s touchstone as a singer, but she’s open to whatever interests and styles her students bring to her. “I tell everyone,” she says, with a laugh, “I promise I’m not trying to make you into an opera singer.”

Sharon Neff
Voice faculty at the Wynnefield and Camden Branches
Faculty member since 2013

Christine Danoff

Most musicians can identify the moment they discovered their chosen instrument, as well as the person who introduced them to it. For Christine Danoff, this moment came from her father, a public school music teacher.

When he would practice at home, Danoff recalls, “I would sit on the floor, by the end of the endpin, so I could feel the vibrations. I fell in love with the sound, and with the very human quality of the instrument.”

Many musicians, both young and old, still have that reaction to the cello’s sound. Danoff’s current students range in age from 7 to 65, though she’s had students as young as 4 and a half.

With students who start out very young, Danoff is mindful of their development and level of interest. “It’s something I always concerned about: Have they had enough of it? How much are they personally invested?” With encouragement along the way, she aims to keep even the youngest students motivated and on track.

For her individual students as well as her chamber music groups—she currently has two: one all-cello ensemble and one standard string quartet—she encourages regular performances as a way of getting comfortable on stage and assessing themselves in performance.

“One of the most wonderful things about Settlement is that students don’t have to wait until the big the concert or the big audition to gain experience on stage,” she says. “They have such great access to playing in concerts.”

The intimacy of chamber music among Danoff’s students expands a bit each spring with the “Cello-bration,” which has been held at the Willow Grove Branch’s Open House since 2011. This past spring, the cello choir contained 26 players, the most Danoff had ever had.

Each year, after various combinations of students perform in duets and small ensembles, the full choir always performs “Tango” by Carole Neuen-Rabinowitz, which has become a sort of official anthem for Danoff’s cello studio.

“It’s something I can do for everyone, including my many younger or intermediate students.”

This large-scale experience becomes another way of building a deep connection to an instrument that seems to grab hold of musicians of all ages. Maybe, Danoff says, it comes from the way you hold the instrument when playing it.

“You embrace it,” she says. “You just give it a hug.”

Christine Danoff
Cello and chamber music faculty at the Germantown, Kardon-Northeast and Willow Grove Branches
Faculty member since 2001

Lee Snyder

Lee Snyder doesn’t practice as much as he used to.

That might be a bit of an understatement: he says during his days studying at Oberlin and Juilliard, he would practice eight to ten hours a day. That gave way to a highly distinguished performing career as a soloist and chamber musician, which obviously required a great deal of practice as well.

“My definition of practicing is ‘solving problems,’” he says. “The most important thing I can teach my students is to how to practice.”

Snyder retired from performing a number of years ago, and says he now spends the time he used to spend practicing in his garden or at the gym. Though he brings a violin with him to his lessons, he doesn’t always pick it up to play.

“Some days, I play quite a bit. But If I have something to show them in terms of interpretation, I’ll just grab theirs.”

When Snyder looks back on his time teaching at Settlement, he remarks on how much his teaching has improved in the years since he first started and since he retired from performing. “I’ve become a lot more organized,” he says.

Of course, earlier in his career, he wasn’t able to draw from his “Ten Commandments”: short bits of wisdom amassed over the course of many decades of teaching. Some are borrowed from other teachers, others adapted from articles or even advertisements; only, he’s quick to add, “there’s a lot more than ten of them.”

While he’s demanding of his students, he expects them to be even more demanding of themselves. At this stage in his career, with many of his students having careers as professional musicians – and some teaching alongside him at Settlement – he’s clearly made an enormous impact in his teaching.

He still keeps it all in perspective, drawing on one of his many “commandments.”

“When you finally get something the way you want it, your practicing has just begun.”

 

Lee Snyder
Arthur Judson Distinguished Faculty Chair
Violin faculty at the Willow Grove Branch
Faculty member since 1971

Alan Ens

For over a year now, Alan Ens has been an excitable, high-energy presence at four of Settlement’s six branches. His introduction to Settlement first came when he performed with fellow faculty member Brendan Evans.

“I was playing free jazz with this group, and the drummer went to Oberlin with Brendan,” he says. “We ended up playing in a rock band together.”

Evans is a very accomplished classical guitarist as well, and gave a stellar solo performance in the Karin Fuller Capanna Faculty Recital in 2015. Now that Ens is playing and teaching alongside him, as well as other experienced performers on Settlement's faculty, he has felt the need to brush up his own playing. When practicing at home, his preferred instrument is a Yamaha Silent Guitar, pictured at right, which has a headphone plug-in.

“When I first started teaching, I thought, ‘why would I need to take lessons?’,” he says. “Now, I feel it’s essential. It really keeps me improving.”

That focus on making steady personal improvement has had an impact on his approach to students as well, as he tries to meet individual needs. “With each student, I think more about ‘what can I do for you?’ than ‘here is what you have to do.’”

Outside of his one-on-one lessons, Ens wants to work with other guitar faculty to convene a guitar ensemble, flexible in size from a quartet to something like a guitar orchestra, once or twice each year. “Any guitar teacher could send their student over a rehearsal, and then we could put together a performance with just one rehearsal,” he says. “It’s something that would really strengthen the guitar-playing culture here.”

Guitar culture can take many forms, of course, and at each student’s first lesson, Ens likes to have them make a list of ten songs they enjoy. Even with his background in jazz and rock music, as well as in classical guitar, he has had to broaden his horizons even further to appeal to his students’ tastes.

“You gotta know some Katy Perry and some Taylor Swift,” he says.

Alan Ens
Guitar faculty at the Mary Louise Curtis, Wynnefield, Kardon-Northeast and Camden Branches
Faculty member since 2015

Nero Catalano

Seeing a performance by someone you admire can be inspiring, but for Nero Catalano, seeing a guitar great in concert taught him something unexpected.

Catalano’s realization came when he went to see John Williams, a world-renowned classical guitarist, perform. “He was playing ‘La Catedral’—it’s a massive virtuoso piece, one that I’ve tried to play many times,” he recalls. “I could tell he messed up three times. Almost no one else in the audience would have noticed, but I thought, ‘That’s amazing! He’s a human being.’”

The hardest thing, for experienced musicians as much as young ones, is “to keep going,” Catalano says. “I still make mistakes all the time. There are always going to be a couple of bumps in the road.” For this reason, he always stresses patience with his students, some of whom are as young as 4 or 5 years old, even if they’re having trouble learning scales or with finger placement.

Outside of teaching, Catalano keeps busy as a working musician, performing in bands, jazz combos, and in pit orchestras for theater shows. He comes from a family of guitarists as well: he plays in a guitar duo with his brother, and his father owns a guitar store in Catalano’s hometown of Camp Hill, Pa. “I grew up around people playing—and practicing—music,” he says, adding that he could often hear lessons taking place in the store from his room.

Because he’s trained in both classical and jazz, Catalano works to accommodate students who are interested in both types of music—or who don’t yet know what kind of music they want to play.

“It all depends on the instrument they come in with on the first day,” he says. “If they come with a gut-string, classical-style guitar, we’ll work on finger playing. If they have a steel-string guitar, we’ll work on playing with a pick.”

His adult jazz ensemble is similarly flexible—to an extent. “We have a couple core players, and a couple others who come in and out, so I pick the tunes,” he says, adding that the ensemble’s drummer has made some selection in recognition of his longevity with the group. “I want to do things that everyone can walk in and play.”

 

Nero Catalano
Guitar and jazz ensemble faculty at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch
Faculty member since 201

Andy Thierauf

Performing, composing, teaching, collaborating with dancers—they’re all part of Andy Thierauf’s career as a percussionist. How did such an eclectic career in music get started?

“I had a really good teacher in eighth grade, going into high school,” he says. “It came naturally to me, and I really enjoyed practicing.” Playing percussion—and studying music in general—“just made sense, and it went from there.”

Later on, Thierauf was exposed to computer-based music-making during his graduate studies. He was composing his own music, and he wanted to design backing tracks and live electronic processing to enhance the sounds he was making on percussion instruments. “Percussion and electronics just go together,” he says, citing interest in composing in those media, both separately and combined, composers in the late 20th and 21st centuries.

Gradually, he learned Garage Band, Logic, and a live-processing program called MAX-MSP. “A lot of it has been self-teaching and exploring things, which has been a lot of fun,” he says.

While he is an active performer and frequently uses electronics in his performances, Thierauf also teaches in both areas. In teaching a class in music technology, known as Musiclab@Settlement, he’s mainly teaching the basics—inputs, outputs, microphone placement—and getting his students comfortable with using the popular music software program GarageBand.

“It has very basic things, like pre-programmed loops, EQ, reverb, compression… you can do quite a lot with that, if you want to make a backing track,” he says. Logic, on the other hand, “has more bells and whistles. You can do anything with it, basically.”

Thierauf’s Musiclab students are coming to the class with different interests and skills: one plays piano, writes original songs, and wants to record her works, while another has experience as a DJ and wants to gain experience in music production. “I want to fill in any gaps in their knowledge, and then explore the programs,” he says. “I want to give them the skills to realize their ideas.”

Next month, Thierauf will bring Musiclab@Settlement to students at the Camden branch, starting with a free trial class on December 7. (RSVP required -- more details are available here.) That evening, prospective students won’t be poring over equipment and learning the ins and outs of cables and mics. He’ll have everything set up and GarageBand up and running from the start. “I want them to get to make music right away,” he says.

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Andy Thierauf
Percussion and music technology faculty at the Germantown, Wynnefield and Camden Branches
Faculty member since 2016